•Want urgent diversification of economy
•Seek passage of second stimulus bill; ask Senate to concur to first bill
•Say palliatives must reach all Nigerians in need; Abaribe, Ndume concur
•As Gov Fayemi cuts pay of political appointees by 50%
By Henry Umoru, Rotimi Ojomoyela & Tordue Salem
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, said yesterday that COVID-19 has offered the country the best opportunity to reduce cost of governance and diversify her economy.
Gbajabiamila, who stated this in an address to his colleagues at the resumption of plenary, after the House resumed from a 35-day recess occasioned by outbreak of coronavirus in the country, noted that the virus has destroyed the nation’s economy, stressing that the only way out was for the economy to be reformed.
According to him, a drastic reduction in the cost of governance is the point to start the country’s economic recovery.
The speaker, who also noted that palliatives introduced by the Federal Government to cushion the effects of COVID-19 must reach all Nigerians, said the House will work on a legislation to ensure the National Social Investment Programme, NSIP, achieves the aim for which it was established.
He said: “We intend to bring these unique perspectives in our ongoing work to codify the National Social Investment Programmes, NSIP, into a Bill that will be considered by the House at our next adjourned date.
“We will also at that time seek to pass a second Economic Stimulus Bill to provide necessary relief to individuals and corporate organizations in Nigeria. We expect that before then, the Senate will quickly consider and pass the first Economic Stimulus Bill which has since been passed in the House and now awaits concurrence by the Senate.”
Global economy devastated
He said the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated global economy, adding that at a time social welfare demands on the public purse were higher than they had ever been, the nation’s present reality called for nothing short of a wholesale reform of its governance structures, systems and processes.
“Any such efforts must of necessity, begin with drastic reductions in the cost of governance coupled with determined efforts to drive economic diversity and innovation in the non-oil sector.
“There are no longer any sacred cows, protected spaces or classes. Every area of our national health policy, economic policy, tax policy, education policy and security architecture are now on the table for reform.
“We must turn this moment of profound crises into an opportunity to make the hard choices we have too long deferred but can now no longer avoid if we are to survive as a nation. This House of Representatives is ready, and I trust that we will find allies in government and across our country who are prepared to make the changes that our country needs to survive, recover and thrive.”
On palliatives, Gbajabiamila said although the government had done its best to reach as many Nigerians as possible, evidence showed that many people in need were yet to get any form of palliative.
He said: “The commendable palliative schemes initiated by the administration have helped alleviate the sufferings of some of our most vulnerable populations.
Many yet to benefit from palliatives
“However, many of our people have not benefited from any of the implemented measures. It is necessary that we act to ensure that as many people as need help, are reached. We must also ensure that the distribution of interventions across the country is inclusive and equitable.
“At times like this, there is a tendency for the existing fault lines of a nation to become dangerously exacerbated. The government must not be complicit, by acts of omission or commission in any such aggravations. Such will only make it more difficult to maintain the unity of purpose, that is essential to our nation’s survival at this delicate time.”
Calling on the Federal Government to take advantage of the unique insights of federal legislators in targeting the distribution of some essential palliatives, the speaker added: “When federal government interventions do not reach those that need them, we are the first to receive complaints and have to explain to our constituents the reasons they do not qualify or why they have been left out.
“Our grassroots interactions provide knowledge and context that can be useful to ensure that the hardest-hit communities receive help.”
Large-scale outbreak of COVID-19 must be prevented
Gbajabiamila said in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19, Nigeria must do everything possible to prevent large scale outbreak of the pandemic.
“The restrictions imposed on our people as a result of the lock-down of Lagos and Ogun States, the Federal Capital Territory and the curfews imposed by other state governments are a necessary intervention. These restrictions are a marked departure from the norm, and many of our people are understandably having a hard time adjusting.
“Honourable colleagues, as leaders in your constituencies, you must ensure that the people in your local communities understand the reasons for these restrictions, and adhere to all preventive measures such as hand-washing, social distancing and other guidelines set out by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC.
“Our best hope is to prevent the massive outbreak of this disease in Nigeria. If we fail to do that, and this disease begins to transmit on a large scale, all our worst nightmares will become manifest at once, and our misfortunes will compound beyond our ability to respond.
“We will be left to seek our recovery with limited resources in a long and brutal process from which we cannot emerge unscathed. We must keep in mind this unfortunate truth and act accordingly.
“Many have postulated that our current approach to managing the pandemic will not yield the results we desire. It has been suggested that we should look at other alternatives in dealing with this virus; alternatives that are more suited to our economic structure and cultural make-up, and are custom-made to our way of life.
“Recommendations have also been made to the effect that we should lift the lock-down, open up the economy with restrictions, including the compulsory wearing of masks in public places. We will consider all of these recommendations and more. Whichever way we go, the total defeat of this virus must be our immediate goal and our highest priority.”
Broad mandate response team set up
The speaker revealed that in preparing for the new reality the country faces, he had established a COVID-19 Strategic Response Team, CRST, with a broad mandate to develop interventions and reforms and to update the Legislative Agenda to reflect Nigeria’s post-COVID realities and priorities.
“The Strategic Response Team will be supported by a group of technical experts, private sector leaders and representatives. Their experience and expertise will ensure that the policy proposals presented to the House are rigorously grounded in a fact-based reality,” he said.
He reiterated the call on the government of the Peoples Republic of China to ensure that Nigerians and people of African descent resident in China received the human right protections to which all citizens of the world are entitled, in view of continuous reports of mistreatment of Nigerians in that country.
Gbajabiamila said further: “These are the same rights and privileges the people of China receive in foreign lands, including here in Nigeria.
“Where there are credible cases of discrimination, harassment or rights abuses against our citizens, swift and visible action must be taken by the Chinese authorities to safeguard lives, livelihoods, property and the sense of human dignity of Nigerians and fellow Africans.”
While commending President Muhammadu Buhari for all the actions taken so far, the speaker also lauded the efforts of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, well-meaning Nigerians that have contributed to the fight against the pandemic, among others.
He also thanked his colleagues for their contributions to the welfare and well being of their constituents in these challenging times.
Abaribe, Ndume back Reps’ position
Reacting to Gbajabiamila’s call yesterday, Senate Minority Leader, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, (PDP, Abia South), said there is need for a drastic reduction in the cost of governance, coupled with determined efforts to drive economic diversity.
Speaking with Vanguard, Abaribe said: “COVID-19 and the coming recession it will bring will mean that there will be a drastic adjustment in the way we live, not just in the parliament, but in every household. Things cannot just be the same.”
Also speaking on the matter, former Senate Leader, Senator Ali Ndume, (APC, Borno South), said he had always been an advocate of drastic reductions in cost of governance.
According him, he is always disturbed that in the budget, the cost of governance is always very high, going up every year, without corresponding increases in job creation, infrastructure, among others.
Ndume said it is disturbing that recurrent expenditure is always on the high side, recommending that capital budget should be 70 per cent, while recurrent should be 30 per cent.
“I am very much in support of drastic reductions in the cost of governance,” Ndume stressed.
‘Call for cuts in governance costs welcome’
Also reacting last night, Kabir Akingbolu, Member Ekiti State Judicial Service Commission, said: “The call by the House of Representatives to cut down the cost of governance is a welcome development that is long overdue. However, the legislators should prove that charity begins at home by making sure they set a record example.
“This becomes very necessary when they realize that majority of Nigerians believe that the amount spent to run the National Assembly is too humongous, and from available statistics, I know that Nigerian legislators collect or earn the highest remuneration in the world as lawmakers.
“That apart, their call for reduction of running cost has become inevitable, in view of the present situation in the country as a result of the outbreak of COVID-19 which has eaten not less than a quarter of the budget in terms of its negative impact.
“However in doing the cost-cutting, the legislators should be open and transparent and not making this as a political gimmick to sway Nigerians to give them some momentary applause and later dash the hopes of Nigerians.
“They should also make it a thorough and reasonable scale down, and not mere reduction of few thousands to justify and amplify their political chicaneries because we are wiser now and can no longer be taken for fools by mere verbal decoys or unnecessary political gymnastics.”
In his reaction, Kenneth Akali, Research Associate, Centre for Constitutionalism and Demilitarisation, CENCOD, said: “The call by members of House of Representatives is, indeed, a welcome development. I believe it would help in mobilizing more financial and other resources that can be re-channelled towards general public good.”
Gov fayemi cuts pay of political appointees by 50%; leaves out civil servants
In a related deveolopment, the Ekiti State Government, yesterday slashed the salaries of political office holders in the state by half.
The state government which hinged its action on the ravaging effects of the COVID-19 scourge on the global economy, said it has also affected the fortunes of the nation’s financial well-being
The Commissioner for Information and Value Orientation, Mr. Olumuyiwa Olumilua, who made the disclosure, said:
“After taking stock of our financial situation, vis-a-vis our constantly decreasing receipts from the federation account, as well as our dwindling Internally Generated Revenue, IGR, we have been forced to wake up to the current realities of our fiscal position.
“With promises made to the Ekiti people while seeking their mandate, coupled with the moral duty of improving their welfare, the time for making difficult decisions is at hand, and make them we must.
“In light of the foregoing, Governor Kayode Fayemi has directed that salaries of all political appointees in the state will be slashed by 50%, with immediate effect. Savings from this pay cut will be channelled into the execution, and completion of developmental projects in the state, as hitherto planned.
“The pay cut will affect the governor himself, the deputy governor, and all political appointees down the line. Salaries of civil servants will not be affected by this directive and shall maintain the status quo.
“This sacrifice is for the welfare of the Ekiti people, which should take pre-eminence over and above all other considerations.”